Federal prosecutors charged a fourth New Orleans police officer Friday with participating in a cover-up of the deadly Danziger Bridge police shooting.
Officer Robert Barrios, 29, was charged with one count of conspiring to obstruct justice in the police shootings on Sept. 4, 2005, in which two civilians died and four others were severely wounded.
Shortly after the charge was made public, Bar More..rios went to the NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau and resigned from the force, according to police spokesman Bob Young.
Barrios was charged in a bill of information, which typically means that a defendant has signed a plea agreement and consented to cooperate with the government. The three other officers charged thus far have all pleaded guilty.
Barrios' attorney, Robert Glass, declined to comment Friday afternoon.
The Barrios filing occurred hours after another defendant in the sprawling case, civilian Marion David Ryder, was arraigned on a charge of lying to federal investigators. Ryder, who originally backed up the officers' account and became a key witness in the NOPD's own investigation, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors, his attorney said.
The bill of information filed Friday against Barrios alleges that he conspired with other officers to cover up the incident and provided false information to detectives investigating the case.
The apparent decision to plead guilty by Barrios, who arrived at the bridge in the back of rental truck with other officers, is a coup for federal prosecutors. Of the three officers to plead guilty thus far, only one, former Officer Michael Hunter, the driver of the truck, participated in the shooting itself.
The other two officers were only involved in the investigation. They acknowledged a wide-scale coverup, including a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports.
Last week, in pleading guilty to two felonies, Hunter recounted chilling details about the shooting of civilians, who he said were unarmed. Hunter said he saw a NOPD sergeant fire an assault rifle, at close range, at wounded civilians, even after it was clear they were not firing upon police. That same sergeant allegedly stomped on an unarmed, severely mentally disabled man, as he lay dying from his wounds. Another NOPD officer had fired a shotgun blast into that man's back as he fled, according to Hunter.
The officers had been stationed that day at the temporary 7th District station at the Crystal Palace banquet hall on Chef Menteur Highway. They responded to a radio call that Sunday morning from other officers who described taking fire on the Interstate 10 highrise. The group hopped into a large Budget rental truck, commandeered after the storm, and drove on Chef Menteur to the Danziger Bridge, which parallels I-10.
At the foot of the bridge, they encountered a group of civilians walking west toward Gentilly.
Barrios was in the back of the truck, along with at least four other officers who allegedly fired their guns that day.
Other officers in the back of the truck have maintained they did not fire their weapons, according to a source familiar with the case.
Barrios was carrying not only his department-issued .40-caliber Glock handgun, but also a 12-gauge Remington shotgun, according to the NOPD's homicide report. That was not the only unusual weapon at the bridge that day: Another officer was also carrying a shotgun, while two others wielded AK-47 assault rifles.
Yet another officer used an "M4-type assault rifle," according to Hunter's plea.
When Barrios exited the truck, he claimed to have seen several civilians with handguns, according to his statements to NOPD investigators. He said officers yelled out that they were police, but the people with guns jumped over a concrete barrier and started shooting. Barrios then admitted he fired his weapon, although the police report does not say which weapon he fired.
Barrios' partner, Anthony Villavaso, also acknowledged firing at civilians on the bridge that Sunday morning. Both officers were part of the so-called "Danziger 7," the group of seven officers who were indicted on state charges of murder and attempted murder in December 2006.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Raymond Bigelow tossed out the state's case against the officers in August 2008, ruling it had been tainted by a prosecutor's missteps. The Department of Justice picked up the case shortly later.
Both Barrios and Villavaso were assigned to the 5th District at the time of the incident, but transferred to the 7th District months later, according to police documents. In the other Danziger court action of the day, Ryder, of Opelousas, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. Ryder, 45, will return to federal court on April 28 to change his plea to guilty as part of an agreement reached with prosecutors, his attorney, Edward James Lopez said.
Ryder now acknowledges he lied when he claimed that he was chasing a group of people near the Danziger Bridge and that one of the people fired a gun at him.
Ryder had said Lance Madison and his brother, Ronald Madison, fired weapons at a relief convoy Ryder was traveling with. Ronald Madison was killed by police.
"They asked him, 'Is this the man who shot at you?" his attorney said. Ryder confirmed it was. Prosecutors say neither of the Madisons -- or any of the civilians on the bridge -- had weapons or fired at police.
The NOPD's police report said Ryder was a deputy sheriff from St. Landry Parish who had come to New Orleans to assist during the chaotic aftermath of the storm. In fact, Ryder was not a sheriff's deputy. He also had been convicted of felony theft in the early 1990s in eastern Texas.
Lopez said Friday that Ryder has confessed that he wasn't "forthright" with federal investigators when they questioned him. Ryder received a target letter last year and his attorney began to work on a plea agreement. As part of his deal, federal prosecutors agreed not to charge Ryder with multiple counts, Lopez said.
Ryder had come from St. Landry Parish with an 18-foot boat in tow to assist in the relief efforts. He was part of a convoy of more than 30 vehicles on the I-10 highrise bridge that day, Lopez said.
The group heard what they believed to be gunfire from underneath the bridge, though they could never confirm who was shooting, or where exactly the gunfire emanated from. Lopez said.
At some point, a police officer on the I-10 highrise made a radio report of gunfire, which prompted additional officers to rush to the Danziger Bridge.
Ryder never actually witnessed the police shooting on the Danziger Bridge, his lawyer said. But he heard it.
"He said it sounded like World War III had broken out," Lopez said
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